Getting help for anxiety and depression

People with anxiety and depression often seek initial help from family and friends, who are an important source of support.

There are several different types of health professional who can provide help for anxiety and depression. They have different areas of expertise but General Practitioners (GPs) are the best starting point for someone seeking professional help.

General Practitioners

A good GP can provide the following:

  • make a diagnosis
  • check for any physical health problem or medication side effect that may be the cause of anxiety disorders
  • discuss treatment options available
  • work with the person to draw up a Mental Health Care Plan
  • provide brief counselling
  • prescribe medication
  • refer a person to a mental health specialist such as a psychologist or psychiatrist

When consulting a GP about anxiety or depression, it is advisable to book a long appointment when the GP is less busy. It is also best to raise the issue of anxiety or depression early in the consultation. Some GPs are better at dealing with mental health problems than others. The GP should take the time to listen and discuss various treatment options, taking account of the person’s treatment preferences. If the person is not entirely happy with the service provided by a GP, it is best to try another one.

Psychiatrists

A psychiatrist is a medical practitioner who specialises in treating people with mental illnesses. Psychiatrists mostly treat anxiety and depression when they are severe or not responding to treatment provided by a GP. Psychiatrists are experts on medical aspects of anxiety and depression and can provide medical (e.g. medication) and psychological treatment (psychotherapies). They can be particularly helpful where someone has anxiety or depression combined with physical health problems. They can also help where there are complications with medications, such as side effects or interactions with other medications. Most psychiatrists work in private practice, but some work for hospitals and mental health services. To see a private psychiatrist requires a referral from a GP. The cost of seeing a psychiatrist is partly or wholly covered by Medicare.

Psychologists

A psychologist is someone who has studied human behaviour at university and has had supervised professional experience in the area. Psychologists are registered with a national registration board. Some psychologists provide treatment to people with mental health problems, including depression. Psychologists do not have a medical degree, so do not prescribe medication. Some psychologists work for state health services, while others are private practitioners.

Clinical and counselling psychologists are skilled at providing a range of psychological treatments, including a specific kind of therapy called ‘Cognitive Behaviour Therapy’ (or CBT). Many are members of the Australian Psychological Society’s College of Clinical Psychologists or College of Counselling Psychologists.

The following types of psychological treatments are covered by Medicare:
Psychoeducation (providing information about a mental health problem and how to manage it)

  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
  • relaxation strategies
  • skills training (e.g. problem-solving skills)
  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) (dealing with relationship difficulties, including with family and friends).

Medicare will cover up to 10 individual sessions and 10 group sessions each calendar year (more in exceptional circumstances) if you are referred by a GP who has drawn up a Mental Health Treatment Plan. For more details, see this fact sheet

For more information on finding a psychologist in your area, see the Australian Psychological Society's 'Find a psychologist' web page.

Occupational Therapists and Social Workers

Most occupational therapists and social workers work in state health or welfare services. However, a small number work as private practitioners and are registered by Medicare. They provide similar treatments to psychologists. The cost is fully or partly covered by Medicare if there is a referral from a GP who has drawn up a Mental Health Care Plan.

Counsellors

Counsellors are people who can provide psychological support. However, counsellors are not a profession registered by the government, so that anyone can call themselves a “counsellor” without any qualifications. However, a well-qualified counsellor may be a registered psychologist and a member of the Australian Psychological Society’s College of Counselling Psychologists. Unless a counsellor is registered by Medicare, the client cannot claim a rebate and will have to pay the full fee.

Complementary health practitioners

There are many alternative and complementary treatments for anxiety and depression. However, many providers of these services will not be registered or covered by Medicare. Some services may be covered by private health insurance. If seeking out complementary treatments, it is best to check whether the practitioner is registered by a state board or a professional society. Also make sure the practitioner uses treatments which are supported by evidence as effective.

Finding a GP or mental health practitioner with an interest in anxiety and depression

beyondblue has a website giving contact details of GPs and other mental health practitioners who are interested in treating depression and anxiety disorders. This website can be found at beyondblue. (Click on the button that says “Find a doctor or other mental health practitioner”).

How family and friends can help

Family and friends can be an important source of support to a person who has depression or anxiety. They can assist the person to get appropriate professional help. They can also provide positive support which will help the person to recover. The following sources provide useful advice on how family and friends can help.

  • The beyondblue guide for carers gives information on supporting and caring for a person with an anxiety disorder or depression. It can be downloaded for free from the Get Information section of the beyondblue website.
  • Practical advice on how to provide initial help to someone who has anxiety, depression or other mental health problem is available at the Mental Health First Aid website.

Job in Jeopardy Assistance

Job in Jeopardy Assistance is available to people at risk of losing their job because of illness, injury, or disability, to help them stay in their current job or find a more suitable one with the same employer. If you are at risk of losing your job because you are ill, injured, or have a disability, Job in Jeopardy Assistance can help by seeing what can be done to keep you with your current employer. It does not help you find a new job. Job in Jeopardy Assistance is free and is available through direct registration with a Disability Employment Provider.